04 October 2016

C-123 Vet Joe Collins Wins VA Agent Orange Claim First Submitted in 2007

Joe Collins, one of the C-123 maintainers from the Hanscom AFB days ('71-'73) whose denied Agent Orange exposure claim and denied appeal I wrote about last month, phoned this morning to say that VA had approved his disability claim! What great news. Joe's exposure claim had been wrongly denied in June by the Boston BVA which cited his service at Hanscom as an air reserve technician as somehow disqualifying him from legal veteran status and thus all Agent Orange benefits.Please...read it yourself at http://www.va.gov/vetapp16/Files3/1622153.txt This was a monster screw up because the denial also discussed his duty as a reservist aircrew member on the C-123. The VA regulations specify that all C-123 veterans claims must be handled only by St. Paul VA regional office which has exclusive jurisdiction. Still, the Boston BVA somehow overlooked that and many other important points, wrongly denying Joe's exposure claim which he first submitted way back in 2007. Joe got great help from the Agawam Town veterans service officer. However, he was poorly served by the Massachusetts Division of Veteran Services which handled his appeal before the BVA on behalf of the American Legion which Joe selected to represent him. VA will award retroactive compensation to Joe but only back to June 2015. Still, it is a worthwhile victory for us, and satisfactory to Joe. In mid-September I happened to spot his denial online in the BVA listing of that month's decisions, without any identification as to who it was about because veterans names are removed for privacy reasons before posting on the Internet. I could see the problem and believed I had a solution but didn't know who try try to help! Our geezers network was able to put different facts together from the claim and appeal, and realized it was about Joe. I tracked him down and with his permission got VA leadership involved – at that point it only took a couple weeks to set the record straight. Joe says this means a lot to him because it will help his wife now and in the future. Other families from the Wing and from the 74th have also benefited, including Paul Bailey, Dick Matte, Bob Ranck, Cliff Turcotte and others from our C-123 days between 1972-1984. The largest retroactive compensation payments have been over $130,000, although most with a total disability rating and claims on or before June 2015 have received around $30,000. Of course, monthly payments from VA continue once the veteran has received "service connection' for whatever Agent Orange ailments exist. Our work to get VA to recognize our Agent Orange exposures began in 2011 and also resulted in these benefits to Pittsburgh Air Force Reserve Station and Rickenbacker Air Force Base C-123 veterans and many active duty troops from Howard Air Base and Clark Air Base. In all, approximately 2100 veterans and our families benefit. Joe's next step? He should apply for Combat Related Special Compensation, disabled veteran property tax exemption, disabled veteran automobile benefits, free VA insurance, and medical care for every medical issue on top of his Agent Orange illnesses. He can get care such as audiology, dental service, optometry and pharmacy. Many vets have full VA coverage for medical issues and yet select there care elsewhere but returned to the VA for these unique benefits.

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